Select Committee on Work and Pensions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 5

Memorandum submitted by the Trades Union Congress (SS 06)

  1.  The TUC is the voice of Britain at work, representing 7 million workers in every walk of life and with a long-standing interest in social security. During a period of change at the Department of Work and Pensions, we recognise that the present role and future responsibilities of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) is an appropriate topic for consideration, and we are grateful for this opportunity to submit comments to the Committee's inquiry.

SUMMARY

  2.  The TUC and unions have a high regard for the SSAC, and especially for its scrutiny of proposed regulations.

  3.  The advantages of an independent expert body in this area have been illustrated by the Committee's successful assumption of its new remit to scrutinise DWP information products. SSAC's independence and expertise promote public confidence in policy developments.

  4.  Unions have a vital interest in the development of social security policy, and value their representation on the Committee.

  5.  The TUC would welcome the introduction of local advisory/consultative bodies.

  6.  The TUC would support extending SSAC's remit to include tax credits, National Insurance and Child Benefit.

SSAC'S CURRENT ROLE

  7.  In preparing its response to this inquiry, the TUC carried out its own consultation exercise, which showed that unions hold it in "high esteem," see it as "useful", "important" and "recognise, value and continue to support the Committee's work."

THE SCRUTINY OF PROPOSED REGULATIONS

  8.  Unions have particularly high regard for SSAC's scrutiny of proposed regulations. Given the continuing significance of welfare to work in the Government's overall scheme of things, unions are convinced that the scrutiny of regulations (and social security developments more generally) is an essential task.

SCRUTINISING DWP INFORMATION PRODUCTS

  9.  The SSAC's new remit of scrutinising the DWP's information strategy and individual Departmental products is an important development. When the inherited SERPS affair blew up the Secretary of State needed an independent body that could be trusted with this task, to provide an extra reassurance that similar problems would not recur: if the SSAC had not existed it would have been necessary to invent it.

SSAC AND WELFARE-TO-WORK POLICY

  10.  The TUC strongly supports the Government's emphasis on welfare-to-work, and we believe that the work of the SSAC encourages vital public support for this policy. The success of welfare-to-work depends (among other things) on changing widely-held attitudes and assumptions, and rigorous and independent scrutiny of the policy can bolster public confidence—essential if these changes are to be achieved and maintained.

  11.  The Government's willingness to submit its plans to independent scrutiny is an indicator of its self-confidence, and the fact that the Committee can and does recommend improvements is the guarantee that this scrutiny is genuinely independent.

SSAC AND GOOD GOVERNMENT

  12.  The SSAC also contributes to good government. The public consultations when proposals are formally referred to it provide a forum for informed discussion of novel and potentially contentious proposals. The Committee often receives detailed and well-informed comments from those who will implement or be affected by proposals. The SSAC's reports do not necessarily reflect all the comments it received in the course of a consultation, but they do take account of them, and the Committee is often able to draw Ministers' attention to practical difficulties.

MEMBERSHIP

  13.  The TUC values the statutory provision for one member to be appointed after consultation with unions. Unions have a well-established interest in the benefits system. Beveridge called the TUC "the Godfathers of the Beveridge report" and noted that, "with the exception of one point there is little difference between my proposals and the proposals of the TUC." (The History of the TUC, 1968, p 126.)

  14.  The TUC was calling for a welfare-to-work focus in social security policy long before it became a political rallying-cry, and the occupational pensions and other benefits our affiliated unions negotiate will be important features of any future system. We continue actively to contribute to national debates about social security, and produce extensive briefing materials for union members. The statutory provision for a member of the SSAC to be appointed after consultation with the TUC guarantees an employee voice in discussions about an area of policy vital to their interests.

A LOCAL VOICE

  15.  The TUC would encourage the Select Committee to consider the case for establishing local advisory and consultative committees. We are concerned that the polarisation between officials who draft legislation and those who are affected by it is possibly greater in social security than any other policy area. Bridging this gap is difficult: social security legislation is complex, but recipients are extremely disadvantaged and less able than other groups to ensure their voice is heard when changes that vitally affect their interests are being considered.

  16.  The SSAC has a good record of considering the impact on the poorest claimants when scrutinising proposed regulations. This is to be commended, but a single London-based Committee will inevitably be seen as distant by claimants.

  17.  Before 1980, the National Insurance Advisory Committee played a similar role to the SSAC. The TUC does not support a return to the pre-1980 arrangements, but we do believe that one advantage of this system was to be found in NIAC's more than 200 local advisory committees. A more modern form of local body —one could envisage Community Benefit Forums, analogous to the new Patients' Forums in the NHS—might help to build new links between those affected by social security policies on the one hand, and those designing and implementing them on the other. The reports of such forums could also provide a valuable resource for the SSAC and other bodies commenting on proposed policies and regulations.

EXTENDING SSAC'S REMIT

  18.  Unions, as indicated above, value the SSAC. We also believe, however, that if it is to remain relevant the Committee's remit must be extended, and that otherwise there is a risk that SSAC will become less relevant to important policy debates. We accept that addressing this issue will require the allocation of extra resources.

  19.  We believe that SSAC's remit should be extended to cover National Insurance, Child Benefit and tax credits:

    —  National Insurance Contributions are paid by millions of working people, and eligibility to many benefits depends upon ones NIC record.

    —  Similarly, Child Benefit is an essential plank of the Government's policy to eliminate child poverty.

    —  From April 2003 the new tax credits will form an element of the incomes of millions of working people. Tax credits are intended to deliver the Government's aims of making work pay, tackling poverty and social exclusion.

  20.  Even though tax credits, National Insurance and Child Benefit have been transferred from DWP to IR they are central features of our social security system. SSAC has an informal agreement that enables it to comment on IR proposals, but we worry about a situation in which the SSAC's statutory authority does not extend to those elements of provision that are most vital to the Government's welfare reform agenda.

September 2002

NOTE

  1  The TUC wanted the industrial injuries to be entirely separate from National Insurance.


 
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